Bypass plan presented
by Kelly Feser Eells
Tempers flared and emotions ran high, but, in the end, Oak
View resident Lanie Springer's peacekeeping skills were acknowledged
with an impromptu round of applause.
The Highway 33 Improvement Committee chair led one of the committee's
most-attended meetings on record Wednesday night, when some 75
people squeezed into the Casitas Springs Community Center to
get the results of Caltrans' and Ventura County Transportation
Commission's recently-completed studies of the proposed Casitas
Hours before it began, Association to Bypass Casitas co-founder
Darlene Durfee predicted the meeting would be "hot and heavy,"
and, at times, it was.
Still, however dissatisfied some people were with the information
presented, and however disappointed others were to learn it would
be 10 years before any actual highway reconstruction could start,
they kept their tempers in check throughout both Caltrans Project
Studies coordinator Mel Hodges' and VCTC Deputy Director Kerry
As the audience reassembled in the building's (cooler and larger)
anteroom for a question-and-answer period, Springer introduced
the VIPs in attendance, including Sup. Steve Bennett and several
top-ranking VCTC and Caltrans staff. Longtime local highway safety
advocate Ginnette Waterman posed the first question, asking the
two-man panel to explain what
VCTC was mandated to do for level "F" highways, as
the segment of Highway 33 under current study had been ranked,
and "How does this project fit into the Governor's traffic
Bennett joked, "and in 25 words or less, please."
Forsythe said that, while his agency had initially been formed
to oversee new projects, "we do go out and take a look at
these highways," to determine whether they warrant further
study under the Regional Transportation Improvement Program -
which, as Forsythe's video presentation had earlier shown, is
a primary source of funding for approved projects. (All available
STIP funding has been allocated through 2007.)
With respect to Gov. Davis' Traffic Congestion Plan, Hodges noted
that "its intent was to jump start projects already officially
in progress." (Though the STIP is closed to proposals until
Aug., 2003, VCTC expects it will submit the bypass project for
consideration by April, 2004.)
Casitas Springs resident Joseph Stanton wondered why each of
the three viable alternatives described in Caltrans' "Fact
Sheet for Widening and Realigning Ven-33" were so costly.
"We're not talking major constructural things here,"
he said, referring to recommendations that either a two or four-lane
bypass be constructed at a projected cost of $100 million to
$135 million, respectively, or that the existing route be widened
at an estimated cost of $100 million. "How can you compare
this project to (much more complex) ones like the Santa Clara
Bridge, unless it's just to discourage us folks here from ever
getting a bypass. It sounds like a lot of, pardon my French,
Hodges assured Stanton that $100 million was, indeed, "realistic,"
pointing to such expenses as for hillside excavation, utilities
relocation, and soils reports.
Diana Burns' primary concern was how the project would affect
residents of the Arroyo Mobile Home Park, asking several times
throughout the proceedings what, exactly, Caltrans' plans were
for relocating displaced homeowners, although Hodges explained
at the outset that "Those were details that hadn't even
come into consideration at this phase of the project." After
repeated requests for Caltrans' policy on the matter - initiated
in part by resident Carroll Dean Williams - Hodges said that,
"If and when a project comes to that point, Caltrans negotiates
fair market value and provides relocation assistance."
Springer reminded the audience to ask questions specific to the
recently-completed study, prompting Burns to shout, "Well,
whoever I have to sue, whoever sent me this letter telling me
my property's been devalued, I'm suing. Our homes may be mobile
homes, but they're our homes and we have a voice. Now I'm getting
a letter about devaluation just because I come to these meetings
(and speak out), and I get this, 'Oh, it's her again'" response.
"We're getting off the subject," Springer said, adding
that, whatever personal reservations people had about the project
"weren't this group's fault."
Sandy Lamont said that, as a 41-year resident, she was dismayed
to see the traffic situation continue to deteriorate. "I'm
a school bus driver," she said, "and other drivers
I know call out for assistance just to get out and off (of) Nye
Road." As Lamont proceeded to describe a number of accidents
occurring over the years, Springer said, "Please, what's
the question? These gentlemen are here to answer our questions.
We're not here tonight to philosophize."
Visibly angered, Lamont said, "Excuse me. I want my voice
heard by these gentlemen," explaining that declaring her
support for the project to those with the most influence over
it was necessary to its continued progress. Hodges and Forsythe
said they appreciated both hers and the other resident's comments,
and encouraged them to continue making their feelings known "when
the project goes to the environmental study and public hearings"
As Springer started to call on another member of the audience
to speak, Williams, whose hand was also raised, shouted, "Order,
order. There's a question here."
Springer cautioned, "Excuse me, Mr. Williams, but I don't
need that right now."
"Well, you're ignoring me and I don't appreciate the way
you're conducting this meeting," Williams said. "And
I don't appreciate your attitude."
Sighing, Springer said, "OK. You're recognized now, Mr.
Williams stood and loudly demanded to know whether "This
was a political project." Pointing in Bennett's direction,
he said, "we have a supervisor here; tell us right now.
Why are we concerned with funding (issues)? If there is no project,
for certain, why is funding being discussed? Can you discuss
the politics of this?"
After he sat back down, Oak View resident Dan McLaren broke the
silence by telling the panel, "Our concern isn't money.
We've lost friends on this road. We don't want a Band-Aid solution,
and we don't care about cost. We just want a good public highway...whatever
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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